This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.
Treblemakers new CD to emphasize
the quality of children's voices
April 13, 1998

Did you know Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was a five-verse song about a nighttime traveler.

American folk songs and nursery rhymes are beautifully given new life in child voice specialist Mary Ellen Junda's new CD, featuring the voices of 15 middle school students from her children's choir. "Singing with Treblemakers: Songs for Young Singers" celebrates the child's voice under Junda's direction, with emphasis on accurate singing and stylistic interpretation of the songs.

Junda, associate dean of fine arts and choir director, is releasing the CD this month, making an important contribution to music recordings for children. There are numerous recordings available of children singing, but most cannot be used as models for vocal development because the children singing do not use good vocal technique, she says.

"A lot of children's music is what we think they want to hear. It's childish, not childlike," says Junda, a music education professor. "It's also not done with a real sensitivity to the music itself. Most of the recordings use children singing in a lower than normal range, using chest or lower voices. This type of singing is commonplace in popular music. Children who sing in the lower register produce a harsher vocal quality, have a limited vocal range and lack accurate intonation. This kind of singing over long periods of time typically results in vocal damage.

"I wanted to highlight the child's true voice - capture the essence of childhood not contrived."

The children on the CD are among the 35 members of Treblemakers, a choir Junda created in 1992 at the Division of Extended and Continuing Education's Community School of the Arts. They are from Mansfield, Ashford, Willington, Tolland, Windham and Columbia. The Treblemakers choir performs at annual concerts at von der Mehden Recital Hall and was invited to perform the national anthem for President Clinton during his visit to UConn in 1995.

The idea for the CD came about because Junda's son, Nikolas, loved to hear the Treblemakers choir. When he was two, she taped a rehearsal for him so he could sing along with them at home. But Junda, who will require students to study the CD for her elementary methods class, says creating the CD became much more than the music itself.

"This is the vision for what I wanted to do for my son that I thought other children would also enjoy. I believe that young children will love to sing along with the CD," she says. "But I also hope that it spreads into a philosophy where parents and educators recognize the beauty of a child's true singing voice."

The new CD will be an important resource for classroom teachers, child care specialists, music education students and teachers, and parents to teach children how to sing accurately, Junda says.

Beginning in the spring of 1996, Junda reviewed about 250 folk songs, selecting 45 to record, based on the choir's qualities and vocal range. The 25 songs on the CD include Alphabet Song, Cock Robin, She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain and Are You Sleeping? The children rehearsed from September to May for 45 minutes a week, but they were not used to performing for a recording.

"The children were terrified the first day," she says. "They couldn't sing because they were afraid of making a mistake in the recording." So she told them to bring in a stuffed animal. "With all the tension going into their stuffed animals, their voices opened up and it was just beautiful."

But the difficulties continued, as they set out to record the CD on three weekends at von der Mehden Recital Hall beginning with Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

"We didn't have a proper recording studio, so we used von der Mehden Recital Hall, which is anything but quiet," she says. "We scheduled the second rehearsal during spring break so it would be less noisy outside. I even called the airports and asked them to stop flying small airplanes overhead. But it rained that day, so the roof made noise because it stretched and leaked."

During the last rehearsal on Memorial Day, there was a motorcycle rally.

"The children were incredibly resilient," Junda says. "It's tedious work. They had to stand still for hours at a time trying not to cough or to do anything."

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep alone required 47 takes. To get in the mood for the songs, the children went on the floor and danced to the music, as younger children would.

"They realized that each song is a jewel and has its own beautiful characteristics," she says. "Children give each performance something new."

To accompany the children, Junda worked with musicians from the music department and the Community School for the Arts, including Dana Mayo, guitar; Carrie Crompton, dulcimers; Bruce Bellingham, bass; Andrea Graffam, cello; Bob Bloom, percussion; Sue Cryan, violin; Laura Matteson, cello; and Rebecca Floyd, flute.

Junda says many from the UConn community volunteered to help with the CD. Robert Miller, professor of music education, produced the CD and Tom Ratelle, a sound engineer in the music department, recorded, edited and mixed it. The Research Foundation provided Junda with a grant to have the CD mastered and graduate assistants helped create the CD booklet.

A grant from the Teaching Institute partially covered photographs of the choir taken by Kim Bova, a student in the visual arts department, and cover artwork by Eric Spencer, who recently taught illustration courses here and is famous for the logo for Bradley Airport.

The CD, which does not as yet have a distributor, is expected to be released April 27. Junda hopes to publish a songbook for the CD, so children can see the musical notation.

Renu Aldrich